Despite its playful title, Goon is an emotional powerhouse. Its subtle delivery demands your full attention and attention is what it’s getting. Quite suddenly, Vancouver’s Tobias Jesso Jr. is a familiar name – performing his hit “How Could You Babe” on the Tonight Show and “Without You” on Conan and even earning a fan in Adele. On paper, nothing about Jesso’s music is flashy and the only thing that makes him standout is his height – 6 ft 7!- and yet, he elegantly taps into the simplest of human emotions, making his music gripping and extremely relatable.
Tobias Jesso Jr. sounds like a child of a 70s or 80s singer-songwriter. Most noteworthy, the completely charming “Can We Still Be Friends” could easily be the sequel to Carole King’s 1971 classic “You’ve Got A Friend.” By putting together familiar arrangements of piano, drums, bass and the occasional addition of strings, horns, or guitars, his music is earnest and warm. It’s a delectable backdrop to the complex moments that Jesso paints.
A song that is on the minds of many, “How Could You Babe” is just the, granted, very catchy, tip of Goon’s metaphorical iceberg. Built around some simple piano chords, with each repetition of Jesso crying “how could you babe?” the despair grows more urgent and ultimately ends with Jesso unleashing a scream in the last verse. For those who like poppy, piano-based emotional ballads (think Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”), to like “How Could You Babe” is a complete no brainer. For those less inclined, (you might have thought “ugh” during the above description) hear me out: you know that wonderful feeling when you’re mid-falling in love/lust/like/whatever but you suddenly look around and the other party is nowhere in sight? With not even your naive optimism to cushion the blow, you’re left alone to painfully hit the ground. Every replay of “How Could You Babe” is like going through that all again. Gloriously painful.
“Without You” won’t help with your sadness either as it reflects on these above emotions in a methodical manner. It’s a slow burning, a less obvious though equally powerful album hit, it comes to a peak during the bridge’s desperate question, “Oh, what have you got to lose?”
Where you’ll find the earliest emotional break is in “The Wait.” “The Wait” is an irresistible little love song. A simple plucked guitar and vocal combo, Jesso’s desire to find companionship is entirely confident, he can’t hide behind his bashful lyrics, even when he croons, “maybe you wanted more but if I change, could I ask you on a date?”
Based on Jesso’s own experience moving to California, “Hollywood” is a sombre reflection on fame and the industry standards. The song is later contrasted by the light “Leaving LA.” Jesso seems to find acceptance and a clarity here that had otherwise been absent.
Throughout Goon, we get glimpses of what is to come from Jesso. “Leaving LA” has some of those hints, the middle part of the track features some swirls and whirls and even a bongo drum, and “For You” is a bright, upbeat number that is one of the fullest songs from the record. With a dramatic vocal performance from Jesso and an ending guitar solo, “Crocodile Tears” is theatrical while the closer, “Tell the Truth” sneaks in there almost as a folky number, with the backing strings allowing Goon to glide to a finish.
Tobias Jesso Jr. is is more than a shadow living in a shadow of a past music style; he occupies space. He is part of an ongoing renewal of music’s simplicity. Goon is just the beginning of what should be a long journey for Tobias Jesso Jr.
Top Tracks: “How Could You Babe”; “Can We Still Be Friends”; “The Wait”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*