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Gary War - Jared’s Lot

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Artist: Gary War

Album: Jared’s Lot

Label: Spectrum Spools

Review date: Aug. 2, 2012

When Gary War’s Horribles Parade came out in 2009, it seemed to herald a sea change in pop construction, crystallizing the hype around “hypnagogic pop” into 10 extraordinarily eccentric tracks that were drenched in layers of reverb and distortion lifted from noise, but — and this is key — that were centered around perfect pop hooks and subdued melodies. Tracks like “Highspeed Drift” and “Sold Out” were dark and haunting, nasty punk takes on electro-pop with watery, alien vocals and metronomic rhythm patterns. And at the end of “No Payoff,” Gary War’s Greg Dalton launched into a series of soft rock “bum-bum-bums” that swirled out of the murk like rays of light piercing fog, a moment so thrilling I laughed out loud when I first heard it.

But that was three years ago, and H-pop has so far failed to really build on the promise of that album (and the likes of Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill). Blended influences have given way to straight-ahead nostalgia and a new form of New Age that, for all its irony and self-awareness, still feels irrevocably twee. For Gary War, that means there’s a quite a lot of expectation around Jared’s Lot, which inevitably outreaches the finished product. Given the time it’s taken to produce this third album, it feels very slight, clocking in at a meager 28 minutes, and most of the tracks barely register before they’ve made way for the next one.

On the plus side, Greg Dalton has maintained, on the surface, his ability to craft neat, sexy pop songs, and “Thousand Yard Stare” is a cracking opener, rollicking along at breakneck pace, driven by swirling synths and edgy percussion, with Dalton’s trademark murky vocals soaring over the top. Like all the tracks that follow it, the lyrics are bleak, in the tradition of synth forebears like Cabaret Voltaire: “I’m in a daze you’re gone / Haunted by psychotic visions.” Things get even bleaker on “Care Less”: “What’s the point to even try with you / Fucked it up beyond repair / Now my world’s so dark / The future’s gone.” It’s hard to think of lyrics more morose. Without the lyric sheet, these messages of despair and loss are both unintelligible and unexpected. In contrast to Horribles Parade, Jared’s Lot is bright and colorful, a synth-pop cocktail of bleeps, bloops, swooshes and sparkles that sits oddly alongside the gloomy lyrical output. If the aim was to create a soundtrack to a futuristic dystopia where overdriven machines and glossy artifice combine to create social disengagement and alienation, Jared’s Lot’s ambition is rarely matched by the music.

This album would actually sit more comfortably alongside the likes of Led Er Lest on Sacred Bones — the label that released Horribles Parade and has done more than most to re-elevate synth-driven pop/rock back into the collective consciousness — than on Spectrum Spools, the home of more atmospheric and drone-based music. The move into a brighter, ’80s-coloured sound is a bold one for Gary War to make, but the end result doesn’t seem to have been considered much, except as something of a genre exercise. And those rarely work out, no matter how well executed.

By Joseph Burnett

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