Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – 'Em Are I
Rough Trade, 2009
Acquired: Love Garden Blowout Location, Used, 2009
Jeffrey Lewis is one of my favorites. I first got into him through Melissa Knudsen's antifolk show on KJHK. City & Eastern Songs was also in rotation for a while and “Don't Be Upset” and “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror” were two of my favorite songs from that year. I saw him play at SXSW a couple years ago and it was great, but he was still supporting 12 Crass Songs, which is great and all but I just prefer hearing his songs, which is why I'm stoked about seeing him on Monday in support of Dr. Dog of all bands. Weird. This record is pretty good. However, “Slogans” is one of my top 5 songs of 2009, and really, it's perfect. Lyrically it's an excellent veiled breakup song. Lines like “I thought my heart's not the kind you break/ It's just that certain things are hard to take” are perfectly composed, as they express that kind of pain without being sentimental, sappy, or sounding like a pussy. The big jump here is that Lewis is focusing a lot more on the music this time around. Rather than singing over an acoustic guitar, here he's got a full band and it really works for him. Yeah, there are the vintage Jeff Lewis tunes like “To Be Objectified” (one of the album's highlights), but as with “Slogans,” the music is just fuckin' rad! Like, the way that descending bassline ties everything together. It's subtle yet elemental. The only thing Em Are I might suffer from is stylistic incongruity. There's the old stand-by antifolk of “To Be Objectified” and “If Life Exists(?)” is welcomed, as is the punk rock of “Slogans,” but the backwoods stomp of “Whistle Past the Graveyard” is kind of ill-fitting, and “Broken Broken Broken Heart,” though lyrically painful ends up sounding really slight with its upbeat, almost alt-country arrangement. Side B is a little too off the wall, notably with the 7 minute long “The Upside-Down Cross,” but it's all worth listening to. Also check out his “A Year in Love and Music” at the New York Times website. I feel more endeared to this record after reading it. I really wish he would have saved the song about the good ol' pig for some kids barnyard compilation.