Joe Ongie: Lovefest

Jason Damas

Joe Ongie


Label: Granny Vegas
US Release Date: 2001-11-06

With the dwindling cost of recording, many musicians have socked themselves away in home recording studios, doggedly following their own muse to produce their own perfect little record, free of all the baggage of the record industry and rigid radio play lists. Then, when it's finally finished, that little record more often than not is sold in the internet version of that dusty old record shop down the corner, where even the owner's cat listens to Cat Power. Maybe people buy the record and love it, and maybe no one does. But that's not the point. The point is that the record exists.

This week our aural journey takes us into the bedroom of Joe Ongie, Southern California popsmith and café owner. Ongie has been at this for awhile, as he already produced two albums: 1993's Pilgrim Soul and 1996's Cuckold. He's also apparently working on his fourth and fifth. He also was one of Aimee Mann's backup musicians about two years ago. Oh, and he and his wife own a pair of bohemian Orange County cafés that also feature live performances and poetry called the Gypsy Den. Joe Ongie is busy.

And on his third album, Joe Ongie sounds a bit like you might imagine. There's a dash of confessional singer/songwriter à la Elliot Smith, a bit of twisted and cynical pop/rocker à la E of The Eels, a sprinkling of the D.I.Y. singer/songwriter/producer aesthetic of Jon Brion, and a dose of that straight-forward Beatles-esque power-pop that music geeks all love so much. The end result is a meticulously crafted, charming, and original pop record.

While it's difficult to completely pin down Ongie's sound-the aforementioned influences are not often mixed in equal parts-it has the distinct sound of a craftsman. Ongie is someone who makes music because he loves music, and because he wanted to commit these particular songs to tape, not because he wanted to make money off of them or needed millions of people to hear them. It's just because he wanted to. And likewise, there's a certain quality of hearing a record that's the work of one mind and one ego alone, without swarms of industry folk having their say.

That same quality of course does lend imperfection as not everything on Lovefest immediately grabs the ear. But it beats the "decision by committee" quality of most commercially produced pop music.

The most charming quality of Lovefest is that the feeling that you're exploring the artistic workings of one man. If he decides he wants to throw in some horns on "Tomorrow the World", he does. If he wants to start the second half of the album with blinding power-pop, and he does, he begins it with "Whatever Baby Wants". He even wants to exhibit his sketching abilities on the album's artwork, a rather creepy Shel Silverstein-esque drawing of a naked man shooting himself through the heart with a bow and arrow.

So that image-however inaccurate -- that Ongie locked himself in his basement to record these songs (though it should be noted that his production is quite crisp and clean, unlike most basement-demo type artists) and then toiled away like an elf by transcribing the lyrics, drawing the artwork, and burning all the CDs himself is what prevails.

And lyrically, Lovefest is not exactly lightweight either. Ongie's songs are cynical tales of the inability for the species known as man and woman to relate to one another. Not new stuff, of course, but it always makes for interesting lyrical fodder. The sunny "Best Damn Day of My Life", for example, tells the story of a man elated over meeting a girl, despite disapproval from friends and a sense that he's blind to her problems. So despite the song's bouncy surface, it's dominated by lines like "'Cause I'm glad that I've got her / Glad to be her lamb to the slaughter / And all she has to do is simply smile / Then it's the best damn day of my life".

So as an unassuming entry into a crowded landscape of independently-minded singer/songwriters, Lovefest holds up very well, and deserves more of an audience than it can probably receive through it's humble means. But then again, being discovered is not the point. This is music for Joe Ongie, his friends, and the few others who will hear this album, and that's the way it should be and that's what makes it charming. That if you wanted you could meet Joe for a Spicy Bean Burger and a Gypsy Lemonade at his café and talk about music, then you could. And that's exactly why it's so easy to like.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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

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