Review: Jim Noir’s “Jim Noir”

Apr 17, 2008 5:25pm

Jim Noir is a British singer-songwriter with a distinct production style and sound.  He combines elements of sixties pop with later, often lo-fi, rather rinky-dink sounding electro elements.  The resulting combination is often captivating.  Two years ago, Noir debuted with his album “Tower of Love.” Now he returns with his second album which is self-titled.  In Jim Noir’s world, lyrics are often fuzzy sounding, but the harmonies are always tight.  His albums are mixed in stereo extremes. Often the vocals and guitars are on one side and the bass and drums are on the other.  The album begins with a one minute intro called “Welcome Commander Jameson.”  Combined with the cartoon spaceman on the album’s cover, it’s hard not to think of “Commander Jameson” as a Saturday morning alternative to Bowie’s Major Tom. As Noir ends Jameson’s fanfare, a Beach Boys’-esque choir comes in, ushering in “All Right.” The track is full of robot voices and electronic beats while still having sixties-style harmonies.  Imagine a perfect middle ground between Chad and Jeremy and Zapp and Roger.  “What U Gonna Do” sounds like a tweaked and remixed mid-career Beatles tune, complete with a sudden tempo shift and minor guitar freak out. If there is a crossover hit on this disc, it is “Don’t You Worry,” a catchy track built around a sturdy four-chord guitar pattern.  Noir knows what made the British pop music of the sixties so special, and all those elements are present here, but the track is also coated in keyboards, and the beat moves at a slow hip-hop-flavored groove.  “Ships and Clouds” recalls the Zombies with its vocal harmonies, but the backdrop is very moog-y.  This album would make fascinating roller-rink music. “Happy Day Today” sounds like grade-A Casiotone, which then gets a fun layer of guitar fuzz.
Noir’s strength is his attention to texture.  It looks from the album credits like he’s a one-man band.  These songs are whimsical with a child-like sense of creativity and joy..  How refreshing this is in a world of heavily calculated “hit” records.  These songs are made out of love. Noir’s also a witty observational writer.  It’s fascinating on the song “Look Around You” when he’s discussing all the things he’s never seen or done. He sings, “I’ve never seen a violent punk or an interesting drunk.” With some of these observations he comes off more as a biting cultural critic, especially analyzing conventions like the love of professional sports, “I scream at television more than I can. / I’m an armchair man. / I call myself a fan.”  “Good Old Vinyl” is song about the industry’s insistence that CDs are going to be a dying format.  Noir is skeptical as he claims, “That’s what they said about good old vinyl!”  He also bemoans the weak sound quality of cassettes.  No word on what kind of digital format he likes best.  Take out some of the electronic elements in “Same Place Holiday” and it could’ve been an upbeat hit for some British equivalent to the Association.  “Day By Day By Day” is shockingly sharp in its electronic layers, and even sports some old-school “Speak’n'Spell” action, but the old British Invasion pop formula still remains.  “Welcome CJ” brings us back to our apparent main character, Commander Jameson. As it turns out, Jameson is actually what Jim is short for, so Noir is actually Commander Jameson!  (He’s essentially then recorded two tracks welcoming himself! It’s a quirky touch!)   Here he gets a full song in his honor.  There are probably six or seven vocal tracks harmonizing with each other over a psychedelic guitar-line and keyboard voice which sounds something like an electronic harpsichord. “On A Different Shelf” is a rich, slow-builder with all the previously mentioned elements, plus some nicely placed sound effects.  The laughing children echoing across the track add a particularly bizarre, inspired quality.  To close the record, Noir gives us “Forever Endeavor.”  This is wordless track packed with ambient sounds.  It begins with static, then a “Close Encounters”-like spaceship effect, then birds and church-bells.  Indeed Noir has given us just about everything he can.  He’s tossed everything at us in hopes of pleasing.  This self-titled second album is an adventurous record for anyone still looking for an artistic thrill in their music.  Jim Noir combines the old and the new effortlessly.  He is a production master.  This second album easily stacks up next to his also great “Tower of Love.”  Turn the volume up and let yourself get lost. Commander Jameson, your mission has been accomplished!

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