Jason Falkner’s career is like an open book, divided into several chapters. He spent time making records with The Three O’Clock, Jellyfish, and The Grays. Somewhere along the line, each of these band situations became too constrictive. By the time The Grays imploded, he must have realized that he doesn’t play well with others. Too many cooks and all that. In 1996 he released his first solo album, Presents Author Unknown, to wide critical praise, if not great commercial success. This was followed up in 1998 with his second solo effort, Can You Still Feel?, which, while still widely praised, was not supported at all by his then record company, Elektra, and quickly dropped off the radar. Both records exhibit Falkner’s uncanny knack for melody and clever wordplay, and showcase his talents as a multi-instrumentalist. His incredible pop sensibilities have made him a much-sought-after studio player, recording with such diverse artists as Chris Cornell, Travis, and Air (with whom he played live for the bulk their 10,000 Hz Tour in 2001). All of this should have made him a household name, but he remains a veritable unknown outside the pop community.
In 2001, Falkner, having left Elektra Records, went back to basics. Real basic. Necessity: The 4-Track Years is a collection of demos and rarities, lovingly put on tape over the last several years by Jason and his trusty Tascam Porta-one 4-track recorder. All but one of the songs were recorded on this, with the opener “She’s Not the Enemy” made on the Tascam’s replacement, a sixteen-track machine. As on his studio-recorded solo albums, all instruments and vocals were done by Falkner by himself. Almost half on the songs here represent the home demo versions of songs from Presents Author Unknown, while most of the rest are previously unreleased in any form.
One of the most impressive aspects of Necessity is how easy it is to forget that every single instrument is played by Falkner. Throughout the album are the imperfections expected on a demo recording, but it really is amazing how good these recordings sound. During songs like “I Live”, “Hectified”, and “Miracle Medicine”, you would swear you were listening to a band playing and riffing off each other. “Miracle Medicine” in particular out-garages anything in The Strokes oeuvre. Falkner also wears his influences on his sleeve on several songs here. The Lou Reed vibe of the verses on “Take Good Care of Me” gives way to sunny vocal harmonies during the choruses. “My Home Is Not a House” brings Elvis Costello together with The Kinks. The brotherly love song “His Train” could have been an early Beatles outtake.
Having a pop pedigree such as he does, Jason Falkner often writes love songs. In “The Hard Way”, he sings, “I couldn’t bring these things to you / And you the same for me / I’d see you in the afternoons / That’s the only time I’m free” — his presumable confession about the pitfalls of being in love with a musician. But it is the sublime Presents Author Unknown song “She Goes To Bed”, much less subdued in this demo version, that is Falkner’s most emotional touchstone. Though a somewhat ambiguous song about a lonely girl, the singer starts out hopeful (“And it’s not hard to see / The way this could be / And if it’s all right with you / Then it’s OK with me”), but is immediately stung with a defeating realization (“Some things are better unsaid . . .”). You just know the man knows of what he speaks.
The songs on Necessity: The 4-Track Years do not sound polished, nor were they meant to. With this record’s release, Jason Falkner has given us a glimpse into his process of creation. He cleared out his closets of old material, both for his fans and for himself. An artist usually puts out an album like this at the end of a career, but this record seems more like the closing of just another chapter. Is this the way towards the recognition he deserves? Not really. But Falkner’s work to date is still just the tip of the iceberg. He has already recorded a new album with his old Jellyfish cohort Roger Joseph Manning, and recently released an entire album of instrumental Beatles songs, played as children’s lullabies. With the recording of new solo material underway, and the record label Not Lame releasing a Jellyfish boxset in the coming months, Falkner’s stock is sure to rise. If this collection of recordings represents the stuff that gets left behind, his next chapter may be even more compelling.