Goddamn Electric Bill sounds like a pissed-off and confrontational band name and the album title Jazz pretty much points to one general genre of music. Judge this release by both of those merits and you’re batting zero. Goddamn Electric Bill is the work of indie musician Jason Torbert, whose latest claim to fame outside this moniker is scoring the film Douchebag. His approach to composing is by finding the magic in the overdubs, the emotions of texture, and the joys of repetition. Torbert records all of the music by himself with guitars, electronics, and occasionally deeply buried vocals. Come to think of it, his “band” name is probably something he mutters to himself once a month when retrieving his mail due to a high traffic of electrical currents within his recording facility.
As for the album’s title, it could have something to do with how this release is perceived to be brighter (bouncier?) than Torbert’s two previous albums. Indeed, the prior Topics for Gossip was filled with a lot of head-hangers, songs that reveled in a minor key and didn’t sound like they really wanted to be cheered up. If a song had a groove to it, there was a raincloud hovering not too far above. Jazz, however, feels like someone pulled Torbert aside and said “c’mon man, jazz it up!”
In freeing up the spirit of the music, we see that Torbert is not tied down to any one style. And in spite of that, Jazz hangs together exceptionally well. The album begins with a stretch-and-yawn track if there ever was one on “Birth of a Star”. If we follow this analogy further, then “Pull the Lever” is the song for grabbing your things, heading out the door and driving to wherever it is you’re going. This is one of the few times on the album where Torbert flirts with the idea of building a “song” in the conventional sense. But in such a propulsive synth-pop tune, it seems a little counter-intuitive to downplay the vocals to the point where the lyrics are just another impressionistic element in the mix. Then again, no one ever said that Jason Torbert follows everything to the letter and “Pull the Lever” is quite the hypnotic brew of electronic pop.
In other places, I swear you’ll never be so glad to hear a simplistic vamp than on “The End of 2008” or a dainty, cyclical guitar motif on “End Credits”. He manages to stretch things even further on the sparse and lovely “Hibiscus” as well as the floating, ether-induced “Spectacle Rock.” Jazz wraps up with “Fairytale Orchestra”, another instrumental nugget of great synthetic power undermined by a refusal to harmonically resolve. In other words, a bittersweet end to a somewhat-peppy album.
Learning that Jason Torbert has recorded music for television and film doesn’t come as a big surprise when listening to Goddamn Electric Bill. Stuff like this could easily slip into a Wes Anderson movie. But Jazz demonstrates that Torbert’s talents can be enjoyed without a visual element. In fact, Jazz is just a very good album from a musician who understands the maximum impact of simple sounds.