Jason Falkner - "Stephanie Tells Me" (I'm OK, You're OK)
Jason Falkner is alive and well, and from the looks of things, thriving in Japan. His last two albums, of which I’m OK, You’re OK is the former, have yet to be issued anywhere else in the world until now. Back in the ‘90s, once his tenures with Jellyfish and the Grays came to an end, there was a time when the major label machine found ways to pick up, then summarily drop earnest, low-selling alt-pop artists like Falkner for myriad reasons, from catalog filler to artistic cred to tax writeoffs; now, with that machinery in ruin, artists like him have been forced to take their music back. This is where having a cultish, fervent fan base can help. None of those people should be surprised by anything written in this review — they already bought I’m OK, You’re OK two years ago, and have already picked up All Quiet on the Noise Floor, its follow-up, leaving me with the unenviable task of selling you on a niche artist in a loss-leading genre.
Falkner was up to the task two years back, and circa now, if you peel away a few of the layers. Stillborn opener “This Time” cobbles a very subtle variant of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” as one of its multi-part melodies, its lyrics reminding the song’s paramour (and us) that he’s back. Bumpered by “NYC,” its clean, wrung-out opening riffs hammily nodding to a blank-faced Strokes from across the room, many may start to wonder if any lessons have been learned now that the purse strings have been cut. A flip through the lyric book reveals page after page of justified block text, crammed with lyrics.
All but a few songs meet or exceed the four-minute mark, breaking rank with the youngsters who cotton to prevailing garage/pop wisdom (re: anything you can say in four minutes can be said better in two two-minute songs). Falkner lifts the curtains on such sentiments soon after. “The New” blasts out of the gate on a thumping glam beat and snarling riff, leading into the sort of song you go to a guy like Jason Falkner to find. “Stephanie Tells Me” counters bouncy, Raspberries-style exposition with a swirling, pitch-perfect Paisley Underground interstitials in the chorus, as the artist flexes his songwriting muscles, a formidable set of skills that assimilates several cloud-headed moments in pop history into time-capsule ready moments of melodic bliss. That same hand can revive a potentially dour offering like “Hurricane” with curious, cushy synth beds and relaxed timing. It’s the hand of a musician who respects the form as much as his own contributions to it, one who maintains more distance from the work out of that respect. “Say It’s True” rises up over a slowly developing organ lead that spends stanzas in restless wonder of itself, until the sunshine guitars finally break through; it’s a moment of triumph lost on most of his contemporaries.
It’s possible that others could have cut a record similar to this — come on, it’s a genre album by a guy who’s been working exclusively in that genre since the late ‘80s — but there’s a remarkable lack of ego here, particularly given that Falkner recorded almost the entire thing alone. The bag of tricks employed here zero in on several generations of styles and sounds, without showing too many seams. Nothing feels all that out of place, and most of what’s here is spot-on microfusion. The runtime is justified, and Falkner is as well; he may be his own best editor, which is rare for a guy with his background and experience.