[26 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Jad Fair might just be the coolest man in indie rock. As co-founder of the naive, noise-rock outfit Half Japanese, Fair burst onto the scene with the band with a debut that was not a single album release, nor was it a double. Nay, it was a triple album, which is virtually unheard of for a first release, and pretty much the sort of thing that only the George Harrisons and Clashes of the world (and maybe the odd prog rock band from the ‘70s in issuing live albums) would do. These days, he’s now an “artist in residence” with Joyful Noise Recordings, and he’s been hard at work issuing collaborative albums – the one with Danielson (also known as Daniel Smith) that he’s issued here is among three others. Fair has already crated discs with R. Stevie Moore, Strobe Talbot and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake, and these have formed a vinyl boxed set that you can order from the Joyful Noise website.
However, the collaboration with Danielson is now being issued separately as a stand-alone set. And, as you would expect from Fair or Danielson, this is an album that is bursting at the seams with whipsmart melodies and positively uplifting lyrics. Basically, the songs are all based around Fair’s voice and lyrics. Fair sent Danielson his vocal demos, and Smith wrote the music for the songs, recording them with all sorts of his own collaborators, including members of his Danielson Familie and Kramer, at his New Jersey studio. This is a collaboration within a collaboration.
The thing that is most notable about the album, musically speaking, is just how you can hear colorings of sound here and there. There’s turntable scratching on “Ready Steady”, I believe there’s a chorus of dogs howling on closer “Here’s Our Time” and there’s a smattering of woodwinds and saxophones here and there. And Fair? Well, he’s still got his sing-speak voice, and he’s writing about all sorts of pop culture figures and references from Batman, Daniel Johnston and the Beatles to pop tarts, apple pie and chocolate cake. For Fair, and probably by extension Danielson, life is a big bowl of cherries and is utterly delightful, and that’s what makes this output so compelling. Having a bad day? Well, Fair and Danielson are here to raise your spirits. In the most naive way possible, some of these lyrics may sound like platitudes, but they don’t come across as such – they’re more wide-eyed and childlike than anything else. Samples? “The question is, ‘Is life good?’ / And the answer? / The answer is yes / It’s not no / It’s yes.” How about “It’s your life / Control it?” Or “We deserve chocolate cake and apple pie / Enjoy your life?” And Fair and Danielson/Smith want to know that they’re all for the power of positivity on “Rockin’ on the Good Side”, where they let you know they’re standing up for righteousness and sunshine. Really.
If there’s anything that might be a bit of a failing, though, you could be curmudgeonly and point to that very song, “Rockin’ On the Good Side” and say, “Hey, hasn’t Jad Fair done this kind of thing before?” And the answer would be yes, it’s not no, it’s yes. While it’s a different song, Fair had a track on 2001’s Half Japanese album, Hello called “The Good Side”, and he was rocking on the side of good there, too. So Fair is guilty of giving us exactly what he’s given fans before, which makes you sort of wonder if Fair is simply running out of stuff to speak-sing about. And speaking of sing-speaking, Fair’s voice is hollow and brittle when it comes to singing the ballads, such as the title track. It’s hardly the stuff of fingernails on a chalk board, but it’s definitely one of his weaker moments on the album. And as far as Danielson goes, his music for the final track, “Here’s Our Time” is the weakest contribution to the album – a feeble song that stops the album dead cold. Maybe Fair should just stick to the upbeat, jazzy stuff? And maybe that goes for Danielson too?
Still, if you can overlook these flaws, Solid Gold Heart is, well, solid. Anyone who listens to this record is in for a treat: an uplifting, life-affirming experience. “Grab and hold on to the brightness” goes Fair at one point, and that’s pretty much the manifesto of the entire album. This is just pure pop, full of peppy gems that’ll put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. It’s hard to hate something that is so positive and uptempo, and, as far as it goes here, the fruits of this shared labour of love yield largely great results. It makes you wonder what those other three albums are going to sound like, but if one thing’s for sure, if they’re anywhere nearly as good as this one, Fair fans are going to be in for a real treat. Solid Gold Heart glitters and pulsates with goofy and infectious energy, and pretty much doesn’t make a frown be your umbrella. This is an album of happiness, of fighting for the powers of righteousness, and diving into some mom’s homemade apple pie. Still having a bad day? Let Jad Fair and Danielson lift your spirits. This is resolutely the most heartwarming and sweet album you’re going to hear all year, and one thing still remains, and that is Jad Fair is still the coolest man in indie rock.