It is shame Jason Falkner makes records about as fast and often as Axl Rose. Rose, it is believed, has spent the last decade trying to make a timeless, classic album unparalleled in its profundity. I have no idea what is taking Falkner so long! Can You Still Feel?, his last proper solo album, was released in 1999. Since then he has appeared on other artists' albums (Paul McCartney, Beck, etc.) and in 2004 released a five-song EP, Bliss Descending. Five songs in five years! There might be peace in the Middle East by the time he releases a full-fledged follow up disc. Sadly, as is the tragic case of the Middle East, I would not hold my breath on either account.
Falkner is probably every bit the perfectionist Rose wants to be but does not make fussy-sounding records. He sings in an unmannered way with very few extraneous, annoying vocalizations. There are none of Taylor Hicks' "woos" or Michael Jackson's "shamons" (or whatever the hell he is saying) or anything of the like. Perhaps it is because Falkner finds that shit as stupid and annoying as I often do. Perhaps it is because he writes actual lyrics, the kind that do not leave gaping holes to be filled by refrains of "oh, baby" or "la la la." That might seem like no big deal to you but it is refreshing as hell to me.
Speaking of his lyrics, I like his plainspoken style. Adam Duritz wants to be Bob Dylan and it sounds like it when you read his lyrics. That is not to knock Duritz. I like some Counting Crows songs. Besides, Duritz is not the only one to have been inspired by the man on top of the mountain. I sometimes have to remind myself he is not responsible for all those who have tried and failed spectacularly to emulate him over the years. Falkner may well be a Dylan fan but his lyrics do not possess the same literary quality. That is not to say they are dumb — they are not.
Eric Clapton once marveled at the way Stevie Ray Vaughan never sounded lost when he was playing — he was an open channel and the blues just flowed through him. He never sounded like he was reaching. It sounded effortless. Falkner's lyrics feel the same way.
I may be making too much of this. He is the ace lyricist of his generation. It is refreshing to listen to a Gen-X'er who does not want to wear that particular crown.
The voice and the words are economical which allows all kinds of room for his power-pop style.
What is power pop? I suppose it means more than one thing. When I hear the phrase I usually think of short, catchy pop songs with layered guitars. That oversimplified description does describe a significant chunk of the Falkner catalog. Bliss Descending does fit under that umbrella but adds a huge dose of keyboards to the mix.
My favorite moment on the entire EP might be 4:20 into "Moving Up" when the song erupts into a glorious burst of Falkner's layered vocals. It is one of the few times in my life I think an artist might have done well to go a step further in brightening a sound. This swathe of harmonies manages to soar and sound restrained at the same time. The build up and release are something to behold and "Moving Up" is a real gem. The searching in the lyrics is served well by the wavering sounds of the instruments during the opening part of the song. Slowly the song builds up to that climactic, breakthrough moment. It is an aural experience worth listening to repeatedly.
"The Neighbor," which opens the EP, is the most guitar-oriented song and it might be the most immediately catchy. Some of the guitars have a little crunch to them while others have more of a jangle. "The Neighbor" has a bit of a "wall of sound" aesthetic as layers of everything from those guitars to vocals to keyboards advance and retreat throughout the song.
Where "The Neighbor" was walls of guitars, "They Put Her in the Movies" is a dizzying collage of keyboards. The layers of keyboards do not have the same dynamic as the layered guitars. The melody feels uninspired. I am not anti-synth/keyboard but the mechanical sound is sometimes more effective as a garnish rather than a centerpiece. "Feeling No Pain" is an example of keyboards being used well.
Bliss Descending is the work of an exceptional craftsman. It is a shame Falkner does not share more of that excellence more often.