Music

Josiah Wolf: Jet Lag

Jer Fairall

Why? drummer goes solo, lays his broken heart on the line, and bores us to tears.


Josiah Wolf

Jet Lag

Label: Anticon
US release date: 2010-03-02
UK release date: 2010-03-29
Amazon
iTunes

“And it’s true that I stole your lighter / And it’s also true that I lost the map”, Liz Phair sang in her once-trademark monotone on the hilarious and heartbreaking “Divorce Song” from her classic debut album Exile in Guyville, “But when you said that I wasn’t worth talking to / I had to take your word on that” -- tongue-in-cheek detachment as a thin armor against genuine emotional despondency. It, along with the devastating confession of “The license said you had to stick around until I was dead / But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am” that follows later in the song, are faintly yet potently echoed in “The New Car”, the by-far strongest moment on Josiah Wolf’s own debut Jet Lag. As with Phair’s couple, Wolf’s subjects find themselves similarly stranded together in a car well after the ending of their story has already been written. Also reflected are metaphorical, though no less troubling, threats of violence (the loaded gun placed in Phair’s hands in “Divorce Song”, spilled oil visualized as “black blood all over the pavement” here) slicing through the stifling tension. And, as with Phair’s song once again, such vivid imagery is simply a ramping-up to “The New Car”’s most brutal punch, here the sighed resignation of “When you told me that I wasted your 20s I didn’t know what to say”, a withering afterthought that delivers the song’s knockout lyrical blow.

If only such a moment was not such a startling rarity on Jet Lag, an undeniably personal and heartfelt collection inspired by its author’s own divorce that nevertheless fails to otherwise find the language to connect in any meaningful way elsewhere on the record. More confrontational candor borrowed from Phair might have helped, though Wolf could have easily looked much closer to home for pointers. Josiah is brother of Yoni Wolf, the brilliantly profane, surreal, and ultimately poignant songwriter behind the acclaimed alternative-hip-hop-turned-indie-pop outfit Why?, for which Josiah has served as drummer for as long as the once-solo, now-full-band project has required one.

Fittingly, Jet Lag is seasoned with some of the instrumental quirks that adorn Why?’s music, most notably on the toy-like keyboard plinks that skip through tracks like “The Trailer and the Truck” and “Ohioho”, or the abrupt dynamic shifts that occasionally launch the ostensible choruses of “That Kind of Man” and “The New Car” into brief chaotic flurries. For the most part, though, this Wolf is a gentle folkie, with even the most sonically divergent of these tracks remaining light, strummy acoustic tunes at their core. This would be fine if Wolf had anything like the presence, intensity, or melodic craft of a great, or even reasonably solid, solo singer/songwriter, but Wolf seems insistent on grounding his music in the absolute wussiest aspects of indie-pop with a forced sensitivity that begins, all too early on in the record, to feel aggressively self-imposed.

Still, even with music this drab, Wolf might have been able to sneak by were he saying much of anything worth listening to. Unfortunately, with the one aforementioned exception, the vast majority of the sentiments expressed in these lyrics might be awkward enough in their earnestness to embarrass the likes of Owl City or Dashboard Confessional. “What is your name, is it sadness?” from “Gravity Defied”, or “I know bad decisions leave a scar on the hearts of women and men” from “That Kind of Man” are typically drippy, but even worse are the moments when Wolf tries, earnestly but gracelessly, to spin intimate autobiographical detail into song. At worst, the result is the occasional howler like “I’d never seen a naked breast / Even the in the bra ads they were dressed / The confessions of a little boy who followed the flesh” (from “That Kind of Man”), but for the most part we are simply left with lines like “Unused ‘I love you’s build up in my throat / And my apartment smells like divorce” (from, um, “The Apart Meant”). Impossible as it is to doubt the heartsickness behind such confessions, and as churlish as it feels to kick Wolf while he is so clearly down, it is equally difficult to connect with words that land with such a resounding thud as poetry.

The further that Jet Lag goes on, the more it finds Wolf wallowing in the banality that eventually begins to take over during some of our lowest moments in life, at one point stopping to wistfully inventory his childhood coin collection. If this sounds as painfully unexciting as it actually does play on record, it needn’t be. I am reminded of John Darnielle’s own breakup chronicle on the Mountain Goats’ Get Lonely (2006). Typically regarded as a minor Darnielle work, embedded in that record are small, mundane moments, like the experience of starting the morning by making coffee now for just one, that ring heart-wrenchingly true. For all of Wolf’s bravery in putting his broken heart on public display, on Jet Lag it is, sadly, only the banality that winds up being contagious for the listener.

3

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image