Album Review: Aaron Lee Tasjan – Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!
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Cracking the seal of Aaron Lee Tasjan’s musical mind is akin to the feeling one gets the moment they step foot into Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room. It’s a haphazardly trippy yet meticulously crafted lounge that seems overwhelming on inspection but utterly sublime in execution. Tasjan is a mixing-pot of influences and soundscapes ranging from dirty, glam-rock to sixties surf-pop to buttery blues to psychedelic fever… to everything in between all soaked head-to-toe in a kerosene drenched bucket of Americana. The four walls of his craft are speckled with eclectic icons such as George Harrison or David Bowie, and as the Ohio-native struts into his fourth studio album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, that explosion of genre-blending feels less like a mission and more like a natural extension of identity he’s finally achieved.
While Tasjan’s last few records found themselves moseying around as a free-spirited remedy, this record discovered him as he took a step back to recalibrate after his label questioned his artistic direction and inadvertently caused a musical paralysis. It was only when Tasjan fell inward did he allow himself to go rogue and expand into an unbridled, musical revelation that is personified as the physical incarnation of Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!
Opening the record is the dreamiest of psychedelic-rock tracks, “Sunday Women,” that explores Tasjan’s rose-colored lens for different eras of women. It makes for the perfect Kickstarter of the album as it is steeped in musical themes of vintage glamour that could cause the stiffest of heads to bop. Soon after, the ELO-tinged “Computer of Love” steals the scene as its sunny disposition carries through the exploration of the social media age. Atop the fuzzed-out soundscape, it is Tasjan’s notably quick-witted lyricism (“My little avatar, I’ll never know who you really are. Digital clouds and guiding stars on the computer of love”) and uncanny talent of creating earworms out of offbeat hooks (this time a driving piano melody) is what keeps the song fresh in your mind long after it’s over.
Elsewhere, “Another Lonely Day” is a rumbling left-turn to the tracklist, flipping the breezy attitude on its head. Sounding like the lovechild of Sufjan Stevens and Brian Eno, Tasjan gives a moody performance as the song documents the personification of sun rising existentialism. With lyrics like “Shot up like a rose, and in the sun I froze. And I laid in the dirt until I grew again,” interlaced with the simple yet cosmic cowboy twang, the memorable tune gives the illustration of waking up beside the guy repeating routine -> routine -> routine -> routine until loneliness is a face sitting next to you on the couch. It is one of the realest cuts on the record in representing anxiety, especially in a pandemic-taken world.
“Cartoon Music,” on the other hand, takes a stab at commercialism in the music industry. The Americana-pop laden track opens labeling “cartoon music for plastic people” as it gives sharp commentary on the caricatures of pop artists produced in content farms before the track fades out with Tasjan’s ever-insistent “and now you’re losing your mind” that comes across as quite repetitive, but perhaps that’s the whole point. “Feminine Walk” twinkles by with its middle finger held high to traditional gender roles and stereotypes while exploring sexuality as Tasjan’s fun-loving lyrical prowess takes center stage with name-drops here and dashes of humor and irony there. His broody vocals overtop a much softer soundscape isn’t lost, as well, as it works seamlessly with the track’s overall dichotomy.
It’s in “Dadas Bois” and “Not That Bad,” though where the encapsulation of the record’s inspiration is most present in themes of the hopeful outsiders. The former establishes itself as a spunky ballad wearing the outcasted badge with honor. Giving monikers to those who stand apart from the humdrums of society (“Hanging from the mouth of a beautiful world, we ain’t nothing but crooked teeth”), there’s anthemic energy that builds from “Dadas Bois” that feels as refreshing and full of verve as Queen’s The Works. The latter, though, addresses the murky waters that have drenched our news and politics and sanity of the past year. Stripping himself back, completely, Tasjan’s folky track drabbles about the state of the modern world while crooning “Read the paper on my phone and felt so all alone as I found yet another feeling to ignore” which is the biggest mental-collapse-in-a-pandemic-mood I’ve heard from an artist yet. And, maybe that’s the sweet spot that Aaron Lee Tasjan occupies- the spot of uncomfortable relatability. His projects always have a way of taking cliché topics and morphing them into something so universally personal that it doesn’t feel hokey. It feels genuinely self-aware- something many artists have tried and failed to replicate since last March. “Not That Bad” is the perfect track to crawl into bed to after your fourth job rejection, but there’s something there in the bliss of denial and brighter-tinged musicality that gives hope for days that can one day be labeled better than “not that bad.”
All in all, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! feels like Aaron Lee’s most identifying work to date. With themes ranging from the disappearance of the authentic to peering through the looking glass as an outsider all seamlessly pulled together as an Americana-soaked disco ball, it is one of the most fun-loving listening experiences one can have. Its variety, glamour, and piercing lyrical mind edges on a connection with music that comes across as a personal expansion of who Tasjan has built himself to be as an artist instead of just a culminated emulation. And that is the key to Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!’s success.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal
Hope Ankney | @hope_ankleknee
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