Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jack Frank - A Lesson Learned review


A Lesson Learned - EP

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For a few months in late 2009 and early 2010, the Piers were arguably the best teenage garage band in the Bay Area, releasing a string of excellent, melancholy lo-fi singles that took almost no inspiration from any Bay Area musical tradition. Rather, the band’s main songwriter, Jack Frank, looked to the Big Apple, particularly the early-‘00s scene that spawned bands such as the Strokes. Frank is now a full-time New York resident, and before he left, he gave us a brilliant, lonely EP, a collection of six higher-fi garage-rock songs clocking in at just under a half hour. A Lesson Learned finds Frank fully embracing the New York tradition, assimilating influences from NY-era John Lennon, contemporary indie pop, Lou Reed, Broadway, and even Eighties No Wave. It also sees Frank fully realizing the potential of his style for emotional expression.

Frank is one of those songwriters gifted with the ability to make seemingly trivial details or feelings seem deeper than they appear on the surface. Frank’s lyric sheets are likely multiple pages per song, but he throws in enough details to drive the story along at a comfortable pace. The brilliant “Oh Shit” starts out with a promising “this is how the story goes” before Frank launches into a mental-decline harangue that climaxes with a very Plastic Ono Band scream. “All In A Single Night” finds Frank asserting his lack of rich-white-boy guilt only slightly more convincingly and infinitely less annoyingly than Kreayshawn. Theatrical highlight “It’s Not Funny Anymore” somehow manages to make lyrics like “Why did the chicken cross the road/Cuz people always try to eat their toes, oh no/Why would anyone want to know” sound both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Aside from Frank’s voice and lyrics, the other dominant instrument here is the guitar. Whether adding gentle Beach House flourishes on “Down With The City,” country twang on “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” or aggressive dissonance on “All In A Single Night,” the guitar is responsible for the most of the musical beauty on this album. (His work on the latter is particularly impressive, switching up from gorgeous echoes to a furious Thurston Moore buzz at the song’s climax.) This only serves to accentuate the lost-in-the-city feel that permeates the entire record, with Frank surrounded by myriad sounds that come together to represent a bustling, alien place. The solos even seem to bounce between the skyscrapers and reflect off the thousands of surfaces of the New York skyline.

This the sort of rock album that stands up to repeated plays in part because of its vastness and in part because of the sheer catchiness of its hooks and melodies--it is the rare album that manages to be emotionally and lyrically complex without sacrificing any memorability or anything that makes it essentially pop music. As far as Bay Area albums I have reviewed so far this year go, A Lesson Learned has certainly been the most rewarding, and there will likely be something on this album for everyone.

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