Aaron Lee Tasjan – The Thinking Man’s Filth
Part Ben Bridwell soprano, part Jack White warble, Aaron Lee Tasjan is seeing his hard work and perseverance pay off. Co-writer of the world’s first “three-sided” single—how does that even work?—“I Believe In Elvis Presley” was co-written with BP Fallon, and was produced by the rebel king himself, Jack White. It was also released on White’s Third Man label.
Aaron hails from Ohio and spent time in Albany, New York, before doing his penance in the hipster-laden city of Brooklyn. Home to just about every art form, Brooklyn has been instrumental at gathering the best (and the most god-awful) in one Mecca-like area. Tasjan’s “last minute” addition status in a town that is getting a slow, second look, may have actually helped him gain notoriety. His recent jaunt opening for Freedy Johnston was a perfect match and a well-thought-out arrangement in an ongoing list of smart decisions. His credits also encompass working with Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T-Rex) and Adam Lasus (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah).
But let me back up just a bit. Tasjan’s 2012 effort, The Thinking Man’s Filth, is one of his best releases, and is a project still ringing in my ears. Consisting of six gritty little diamonds, this homemade dish is one best served over and over again. I actually played this for a producer friend who is a monumental Replacements fan—seriously, he judges everything by them—and he also agreed that the analog rough production and unfettered attitude was perfect. I love the human touch here, and it rolls in the most meditative of back porch ways.
Kicking off with the Jesco White, slap-backed reverberation of “Junk Food And Drugs,” Tasjan throws out palm muffled chords, string drones and harmonic overtones as he waxes poetic with lines such as “I can guess/Which one of them is gonna hurt me less/Dear God/What a fabulous mess.”
“Everything That I Have Is Broken” is probably my favorite song on this disc. Emanating golden rays of Dave Loggins (“Please Come To Boston”), guitars roll and shimmer through picked passages, strums and dissonant overtones that push Tasjan’s backwoods memories straight at the listener’s heart.
“Santa Monica And Vine” pulls away from the curb like some big, black glimmering Cadillac hauling ass out of Graceland. Guitars are toned and taller than a Tennessee pine. Tasjan’s vocal kicks in and takes this truck stop picker into the cotton field territories of Johnny Prine. I like the Leon Redbone picked bridge also. I hear a lot of the Jack White influence on this disc, especially with the vocal inflections and style. But just when you think this writer is an apostle instead of a prophet, Tasjan veers left and shows me why Jack White and BP Fallon have put so much faith in his abilities and compositional insight as an artist all his own.
“Ocean Of Days” is a unique, echo-fueled piece that features wide-open guitar lines that focus on a flurry of jagged down strokes that come in under Tasjan’s troubadour style vocal with inflections of Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire. The live recorded style is both organic and premeditated when it comes to laying out the complex bridges and guitar parts. Nothing is standard here, and it’s intriguing to see how he takes this song from instrumental beginning to fiery middle and sparse, quiet end.
The gnarly, hillbilly rock of “Dirty Angel” comes courtesy of songwriter Kevin Kinney. Tasjan dresses up this song with the urgent throb of growling guitar chords and high, hollered harmonies. Percussion adds the backbone as this swampy number dips and bends. The silence before the storm comes in the form of a droned bridge that explodes into a shrapnel-laden blast of tube-fueled cacophony, reminiscent of Wall Of Voodoo’s front guy Stan Ridgway.
The disc winds up with another twisting, turning, finger picked number called “My Camera.” Vocal style is noticeably different from the rest of the album on this cut, as it’s darker, lonelier, and more along the lines of a Jim Croce or an early Adam Duritz. Nothing is wasted here, and the skeleton bare arrangement sings out brightly.
The Thinking Man’s Filth is one of those projects that keeps you right on the edge of your emotions, wants and needs. Aurally tight, the use of dynamics to the most extreme manner is both maddening and appreciated. These songs sound down home and rural in their current production, and I would love to hear them with a full band. Either way, Tasjan is set to bridge the gap between Brooklyn and the rest of the world his own way. Aaron will be back in the area on May 7 at the Rockwood Music Hall along with Mia Dyson. For more information on Aaron Lee Tasjan, head over to aaronleetasjan.com.
Vextion – LIVE! At The Saint March 16
Vextion are a hard-rocking Farmingdale four-piece that I’ve wanted to see live for some time. Their last CD, What I Am, laid the groundwork that made this group a popular choice amongst concertgoers. It was somewhat unfortunate that they had to go on so early, but the house was packed and they got to make a bold statement in front of fans that knew each and every word of their set.
The group wasted no time blasting straight into “Burn,” a song about a friend that turned out to be anything but. Yeah, we’ve all been there, and I could feel the intensity as lead singer Kate Ortiz roared into the verse. Chimey guitar melodies built to monstrous half-time harmonic riff runs. Converse All-Stars were the gear of the day for these rowdy rockers, and Kate even managed to bounce through a cold, opening her powerful pipes with power to spare.
Speaking of pipes, “Temper, Temper” was an open book for Kate to unleash a gritty, gravelly vocal style that would make Joan Jett do a double take. Dinosaur-sized blasts of guitar and drums rumbled under the high-fretted bass antics of Max Orozco. His bio lists one of his capabilities as “swagger,” and he has that in exceptionally large doses. At times overshadowing the opposite side of the stage with nonstop movement, this kid was born to be in a band.
One song that they performed off of their last album was “What I Am.” This tune smacked the fervent faithful upside the head with its scary, heavy monster stomp. Kate was straining at times from being sick, but she kept it together, wailing her lyrical darkness like nobody’s business.
I didn’t get the name of the next song, but Kate informed the crowd that it centered around “An asshole I used to date.” Yet another relatable piece of subject matter for many of us. The song goes into multiple sonic journeys before doubling back on Ortiz and her junkyard dog snarl of broken promises.
“This Time” was the band’s last song, and they didn’t let up for a second as they chopped up syncopated rhythms into thick, slamming salvos of drums that paved the way for Kate’s rough and tumble soprano. It was enjoyable to watch a group that had such ardent fans. Pressed up against The Saint stage, the Vextion faithful didn’t miss a word as they sang along with hands in the air. Great set from a band that is loaded with riveting twists and turns.
Vextion has its act together and should gain some major notoriety in 2013. They’ve told me that there is a new CD in the works, and it should be ready for public consumption this year. For more on Vextion, check them out at vextion.com.