Landon Jacobs, the 30-year-old frontperson of the California rock band Sir Sly, said in a recent interview: “That’s what’s kind of fun about music. You get to wear your inspirations on your sleeve and then mix that with what is going on in your own life. It’s always going to come out differently than what anyone else could do, even if they sat down and tried to synthesize all those things.” The mingling of a person’s musical influences combined with what’s going on in one’s own life results in something fresh and unique, according to Jacobs, and is at the heart of his creative process.
That certainly seems to be the case on The Rise and Fall of Loverboy, the California trio’s (Jacobs is joined by multi-instrumentalists Hayden Coplen and Jason Suwito) latest release. Along with the title cut, which purposely echoes David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, there’s a bunch of songs including “Material Boy” (re Madonna’s “Material Girl”) whose names and musical tropes (is that Radiohead?) evoke past masterworks or provide Easter egg-type rewards for listeners who can identify them. But The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is more than some aural puzzle where one picks out the familiar. There’s the other side of the music; the part that comes out of the creator’s situation.
Jacobs went through a dramatic life change during the past two years. He sobered up after suffering from alcohol addiction over the past decade. He turned to analysis and transcendental meditation as a way of finding what is valuable in his life. The new album deals with heavy existential questions about the meaning of it all and the sense of absurdity that results. The dark humor of the lyrics is frequently buoyed by light, lilting instrumental accompaniment, and Jacobs’ smiling voice. When he sings lines such as “I don’t know how to be alone / Never learned to face the unknown”, “I made my bed, but I don’t wanna liе in it”, and “I see it now I made a mess” over a strummed guitar on the oddly cheerful “Little Deaths”, he sounds more like a little kid than a troubled adult.
On the more concrete autobiographical songs such as “Are We Having Any Fun?”, Jacobs lays out the facts (i.e., “I’ve been drunk and afraid / For just under 2,000 days”) over an electronic, beat-heavy background. The music invites one to dance. Jacobs offers “la la la” choruses. As the song’s title reveals, Jacobs doesn’t know what’s going on. He starts to rap lightly (“Blue-collar bourgeoisie / My new drug is reality”), but he’s not sure of who he is and what everything is all about. There’s a false bravado about the whole affair.
While the bulk of the material here is personal, Sir Sly understand they are part of a larger society with its own problems, such a racial justice. “I don’t wanna be your perfect citizen,” Jacobs croons on “Perfect Citizen”, which addresses the hypocrisy of self-professed Christians who support Donald Trump. “Little red hat signal white pride / What you thinking?” he asks. Guest star Gary Clark Jr. lets go with a blistering guitar solo, while Coplen and Suwito bash percussion and make noise, to suggest the depth of revulsion felt for such so-called ideal Americans.
The Rise & Fall of Loverboy is one of those odd albums whose musical styles and themes seem to vary wildly from track to track and even within individual songs themselves. Paradoxically, it is this feature that ties everything together. One never knows where Sir Sly are headed. Jacobs has turned over a new leaf. He looks to other people’s music for his salvation and then filters it through his own experiences to see what matters. In the end, he’s not sure. That’s better than living with a false truth or being too wasted to care.