John Lane reviews The Hard Parts Pop Up on The Smile Shop here
- Try The Fish
by John Lane
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
– Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
The above epigraph fits here; trust me. Old glum H.C. has been used for nefarious purposes for so long that it’s nice to find an applicable nugget. And so it goes, after listening to Jordan Yaruss’s (he of the mostly one-man-band The Hard Parts) sophomore effort “The Hard Parts Pop Up”, I find myself wanting to be pals with Yaruss.
A little over 2 years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing his debut “The Circles” for EarCandy, and I was instantly smitten then. What “The Hard Parts Pop Up” brings to the table now is a refinement of what Yaruss originally put forth: the marriage of catchy pop and unbridled but thought-out eclecticism. I have to stop here and emphasize that the word “eclecticism” is not a throwaway, catch-all term; Yaruss is just as content to trawl the waters of BeachBoy land (listen to the too-brief but hilarious “You Should Surf”) as he is Electronica (the pulsing, neu-moo sounds of “My Pet Cow”; there’s the acoustic-troubadour imploring us to “Stay Down” when confronted with overhwhelming odds (so that we can have the dignity to rise up once the crush has passed). However, Jordan Yaruss is a man who’s not going out on a dare with these stylistic jumps; it’s just evident that he enjoys them, so he’d rather not be fenced in!
If I had to identify what the Yaruss touch is, and there are many hallmarks, I’d say the most significant is the directness of his voice. He is the heir to the Brian Wilson that gave us “Busy Doing Nothing”, in that — like a good stand-up — he can take the commonplace and paint it in such a way that we feel immediate kinship with the songwriter. Amidst the spots of sadness, humor seems to always be on the periphery. Vocally, he’s positioned somewhere between the 1968-era Wilson and They Might Be Giants (circa the Apollo-18 era). The song “Soft Orange Glow” (my second favorite track) appears to be a pep-talk to one’s self during a bout of depression:
“Hey there/You’re okay/Even though/You’ve been inside all day
Stuck on the couch/Dick in hand/So far away from the life you planned”
“I know this guy,” I say to myself – and he seems a lot like me!
What follows this tongue-in-cheek lament is the ethereal, chime-laden “Sparrow’s Waltz” — like soft background music to a childhood dream. I felt like I was rediscovering something here. But I can see your cynical look: So how can this sort of eclecticism be comforting, you ask? It’s a grown-up pop record – and I think the listener is looking for a healthy blend of reality and escape, nothing too brutalizing. Yaruss is the friend you get together with, have a beer, and the details of his day might remind you of something that happened similarly to you; he’s observant, a keen listener, and he’s capable of taking his time.
The musical gem, the absolute masterpiece of this album, is “Anywhere But Here” — a strident piano-driven, 4-in-the-morning contemplation piece with the drum breaks and the swelling background vocals so perfectly locked into place. In a kinder world, I kid you not, this song would be covered by the likes of McCartney, Sinatra, Streisand, and anybody else you name with the range to carry it out; it’s the sort of tune that sounds instantly familiar, instantly classic. Cards on the table: I played it about 5 times in a row when I first heard it, if that’s any indicator.
So what about the title of this review, you ask? It’s stolen from Yaruss himself from the song “Cosmic Confirmation” – a combination short-story and 4-panel cartoon rolled into one. But that’s as far as I’m explaining; Jordan Yaruss worked way too hard for me to blow the punchline.
John Lane reviews The Circles on Ear Candy
“Jordan Yaruss’ debut album, “The Circles” makes me think of geodesic domes; that was the first thought that came to mind when I plunged into this truly original terrain. And for those not up on geodesic domes, then the thumbnail recent history is that the late-visionary Buckminster Fuller thought our so-called modern, staid world could be given a healthy boost with this new kind of futuristic-looking architecture. And “The Circles” brings to mind the marriage of future-thinking and day-to-day living — not a tenuous balance, but rather a peaceful coexistence. In other words, Yaruss steeps this disc in electronica, but by the same token it’s all tempered with the normal, grounded sounds of piano and Yaruss’ own guy-next-door voice.
Yaruss cites The Beta Band, Brian Wilson, The High Llamas, Kraftwerk, and Brian Eno as influences, which should intrigue discerning listeners well enough who are looking for a worthy listening experience. But the true observation that one should make, when taking all of those influences into account, is how Yaruss manages to suffuse the Old with the New — so you’re just not listening to something derivative. Gifted artists are capable of presenting a Moment in their art (be it one song, one painting, etc.), and through their range, they’re able to suggest the possibility of an extended life or extended possibilities from that one piece. Take the meditative “Everything You Wish For…” in which Yaruss’s affirmations shift like the slow turn of a kaleidoscope — slightly askew for a moment, but then recognizable again. Or take the humorous “Five Things” in which a vacationing narrator has left behind an instructive note for his house watcher. The note becomes ridiculously exhausting, but one can’t help but laugh at the plight of the poor house watcher who has to mind the specifications of the note. The deadpan intonations bring to mind They Might Be Giants, except Yaruss is far more endearing than those two fellows.
The stand-out track for me is “You’ll Never Know” which unabashedly stews together electronica, acoustic guitar, piano, plaintive vocals, and rich, spooky harmonies — and let me emphasize that Yaruss is wonderfully adept at piling on these harmonies, so much so that I wish he’d placed more. It’s a heartbreaking tune that gives The Beatles’ “There’s A Place” and The Beach Boys’ “In My Room” a run for their money, just in terms of the outright manipulation of the guy-all-alone theme. I predict some forward-thinking indie film-maker will pick this song up and place it prominently in a soundtrack.
The possibilities of electronica and thinking persons’ pop have blossomed anew with this debut offering. Jordan Yaruss described the making of this disc as a long and almost arduous journey; one hopes that his next journey doesn’t take as long, for he’s sure to garner a quick following with this one.”
Listen.com review of “Organy”
“A percussive Ambient drone enters as a synth squeaks rhythmically in the background like crickets in the forest. Lounge-influenced keyboards layer riffs and melodies on top of each other as the Ambient sounds swell and subside."
GarageBand.com review of “Everything You Wish For…”
“Nice bubbling and flowing synth with some creepy [good creepy :)] dead pan singing [barret or eno ?]…. sparse Casiotone plinking here and there …. give me some of those golden pills. a perfect example of the power of understatement.”
GarageBand.com review of “Five Things”
“I like this cheap drum machine, it’s a great sound. This is very white in much of the right ways. Great choice of cheapo synth patches. The lyrics are spot on amusing without trying too hard. This is one of the better pop efforts I’ve heard on here. It’s minimal, tasteful, & amusing. Nice one, im giving you high marks and on adding to my playlist as well. All the best”
GarageBand.com review of “You’ll Never Know”
“Great voices, Excellent harmonies… Beatles school. Sad, depressive song, i love them, when they’re well constructed, like this one. Great voice work. Great atmosphere, and excellent arrangements. I really liked it. Keep it going.”