Wednesday, April 15, 2009
This low-budget debut album by singer, songwriter and erstwhile journalist JJ Symon is, in short, a cracking effort. With few illusions, great playing, invisibly raw production from an increasingly impressive Idge at Sound Park and an appealing directness to his brash 60s garage pop, this is a record that is unfortunately unlikely to find the audience it deserves.
Roping in his (remarkably talented) friends to play and funding the recording through birthday presents is a fittingly low-fi and honest way of making an album like New River and the man at the core himself sounds like a thoughtful and unpretentious guy who happens to write great tunes. Borne from time spent in London (a small park there inspired the title), there is a refreshingly creative approach to this duality, as the album sounds half Melbourne half London instead of referring to travel or locations in the lyrics with it’s British brightness and Melbourne conviviality.
New River also answers any unhappy subjects of Symon’s pen who have muttered a variation of ‘well you do it then you hack’ by showing he’s as adept as writing for press as he is for a listener. Songs like Drnk Hairkut, 106 and Winterland could be Easybeats’ outtakes while the Beck-ish folkier side of Symon’s work sounds like it’s been trained in front of small crowds. Acerbic closing track Cabin Fever rolls effortlessly with it’s dry narration: “trade in your regrets, replace them for secrets / place all your vices in the vanity room / say fuck forever / turn all your sermons into lessons of loss”. Tellingly, a Tom Waits cover (Temptation) doesn’t sound at all out of place or throw his own songs into relief.
Ultimately New River is a collection of songs that are bound to please a lot of people should they give the album a chance, balancing the familiar with the personal the way it does. The album sounds like it could have been made by someone a lot more famous going back to their roots as many are want to do of late. Nice work all round.