Power-pop virtuoso Jason Falkner receives a domestic release, and it's about time.
If there's one complaint that can fairly be leveled at Jason Falkner's I'm OK, You're OK, it's that the arrangements are a bit overstuffed. Such, I suppose, are the perils of being brilliant in multiple arenas. If a cool keyboard part occurs to you for a song that already has six keyboards, you have the ability to perform it impeccably. Since you're recording it yourself, there's no one to say, "Jason, back off a little on this one".
Thankfully, Falkner's instincts do not lead him astray in the songwriting department. His brilliance is evident in abundance. The first indication that this is more than your average power-pop album is the first song, "This Time". The chorus is seemingly simple enough ("This time / The lines / Are blurred but I don't mind"), and its melody is as catchy as anything you're likely to hear anytime soon. But an unexpected chord twist on the word "lines", combined with the deftly executed key change leading into the chorus, serve notice that a keen and powerful intellect is guiding these songs, rather than some wunderkind with a knack for melody.
The Lennonesque waltz "Anondah" and the chiming "Stephanie Tells Me" exhibit a more direct Jason Falkner, and emerge as highlights as a direct result. Neither are especially stark or conventional. Both go in unexpected harmonic and melodic directions on the chorus, and Falkner still flexes his multi-instrumentalist muscles. But here, the intricate web of keyboards and synthesizers work as a tonal colors, rather than as several different elements vying for prominence. Understand, of course, that the flashier production numbers still have a lot to offer. It's just that when you hear, say, the continually building arrangement on "Say It's True," you appreciate it first as a technical achievement, before its melody and lyrical content hit home. This does a disservice to Falkner's subtler talents. The record certainly never gets boring, though, and none of the extra production touches are actually unpleasant, so consider it a wash.
Lyrically, Falkner also seems to be going for something greater and more complex than the average power-pop. Even songs about New York ("NYC") and suspicious politicos ("The Knew") contribute a unique viewpoint or intriguing turns of phrase. "NYC" is particularly successful, being less a love letter to one of the most comprehensively written-about cities of all time, and more of an exasperated plea to be anywhere else. It also happens to boast one of the most indelible choruses on the album, which is no mean feat.
Aside from the criticism about hectic arrangements, the only way to fault this album is to stack it up against further brilliance -- that is, other Jason Falkner albums. Falkner's 1999 album Can You Still Feel? bristles with perhaps a few more hooks or inspired musical touches, and his contributions to albums by Jellyfish and the Grays are more idiosyncratic and direct, respectively. But that's hardly reason to relegate I'm OK, You're OK to import-only status, a limbo it has occupied for the last two years. It seems too much to hope that a domestic release will bring the album, and its supremely talented maker, the kind of attention it deserves.