The debut effort of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jimm McIver (pronounced McKeever) is a pleasant collection of aural fun that points up the many different facets of McIver’s musical persona. Such diverse offerings might likely beg a question of tighter focus from some major label’s A&R department. Thankfully, Seattle’s Ptarmigan doesn’t quibble over the wide range of styles presented here — you get the full smorgasbord. Still it leaves the careful listener wondering which musical roads McIver will follow in the long term.
What’s most evident is the man’s undeniable talent — he crafts intelligent songs that draw on any number of solid musical references and makes the results stand out. This music stands up well to repeated listens. In fact, that’s when the real charm manages to make itself known. Play Polaroid Angel often and you’ll hear what I mean.
McIver is aided in this effort by “The Boxes” — Casey Allen on bass guitar, Mark Guenther on percussion (he also helped master and engineer), Walt Singleman on upright bass, Jed Jedrzjewski on lead guitar, Jim Keller on guitar, and Tom Morrison on keyboards. These fine musicians reap the benefits of talented clean production and engineering from the Conrad Uno (Presidents of the United States of America, Ken Stringfellow, Minus 5).
Piano leads into the bass and guitar of the catchy first selection “Paula’s Room”, a sweet tale of neighborly stalking/fantasizing about the unknown downstairs neighbor and her room: “I got a place above Paula’s place / And she doesn’t know me by name of face / But if I hang a mirror off the balcony / I can almost see in Paula’s room / It’s somewhere that I’ve never been but I plan to go”.
Another bit of melodic fun is the infectious “Candybar”, declaring silly and humble needs en route to freedom: “I don’t really need anyone / And I’m leaving as soon as my laundry’s done / And all that I want is a candybar / It tastes better in that sweater she has on”.
McIver is capable of great drama in his vocal deliveries. He opts for old-fashioned crooner in the retro-bluesy ballad of “Years From Now”, wherein he contemplates a variety of matters: “Can we serenade her silly with some sweet forgotten tunes in the night / Side by side, like two lonely sequins in the burned-out ballroom of my pride / And you’ll wonder years from now why you worried so anyhow”.
He works his way from subtle to over-the-top vocal styles in the piano ballad “Mr. Fahrenheit”. Here and in the wonderful “Carousel”, I’m reminded a bit of Canada’s charismatic Hawksley Workman, particularly in the sort of direct Brechtian way the music is put across. The vocals are all high drama in the verses, offset by the realization of the soft chorus that declares: “It may be the underwear I’m wearing are a dead man’s / I shop too much at thrift stores / And maybe the carousel I’m on with you is haunted / By someone else I wanted”.
At times, McIver’s writing reminds one of Squeeze’s Tilbrook/Difford. This similarity is most obvious in the melodic payoff of the chorus of “Impossible”, a bit of pride from a former fuck-up to a religious woman friend. When he sings “I had a dream that it all came down to you and me on a silver cloud”, I guarantee you’ll think Squeeze.
While the winning melodies might be enough to recommend McIver to new listeners, I also like his skewed sense of lyrical whimsy. Take for example “Renee”, wherein McIver pens an ode to a special stranger with “three Es in her name” and basically encapsulates her sad life succinctly in an offhanded manner: “Did I tell you she’s dead? / Took a foul ball in the head / In the newspaper that I read / It said ‘she should have brought her glove'”.
Baseball imagery finds its way into other songs here as well. Look at this from “The Devil is Beating his Wife”: “And now the count is full and the sacks are drunk / We play the sky to pull and throw him all soft junk away”. Also prominent in McIver’s lyrics are images of devils (“The Devil Proper”) and aliens (“Spaceship Jane”), though there’s even a reference to Jim Croce as well (“Austin”).
Songs that were written as a group here include “Bright Red” (great keyboard work enhancing another powerful vocal performance) and the “Sunny Day” which espouses the simple pleasures of such an occasion alongside a great synth keyboard middle lead.
There are fifteen tracks in all, an ample amount of pop music to go around (the hidden track is titled “Carouselathustra”) and lyrics that aim more for fun than the profound. This is not music to change the world; rather it’s a fine showcase of McIver’s songwriting ability along with his talent of bringing energy and mood to vocalizations. If you like a variety of strong melodic pop that grows better over time, you can’t go wrong with this debut collection.