Shuyler Jansen

The Hobotron

BY Fish GriwkowskyPublished Dec 1, 2004

Like the tickle of well-meaning robot centipedes in your bed, the constant electronic bleeps and blips of Shuyler Jansen’s otherwise plugged-in country album can be distracting. Hold on, though. This is clearly the intention: to bring an extra sense of discomfort and alienation into a mournful song like "Hot Flash.” It’s an experiment I would say works about 85 percent of the time — taking a dozen well-sung hillbilly numbers and adding an almost incidental wash of sonically independent Futurama sounds, an impressionistic trick Howe Gelb is master of in his keener moments. In a sense, you’re almost listening to two albums at once, which is inherently captivating, if a little challenging for those of us with single brain stems. Mind you, the multi-track sound comes together wonderfully on a bruiser song like "Beverly Ave,” where Jansen’s junkyard growl sways in deliberate circles with a pretty harmony, dusky horns and spooky keyboards, and is then consumed by urban feedback that would be at home on a Xen Cuts collection. Jansen’s exasperated and effective "why, people?” soapbox at the end, "Shallow of Our Lives,” is understandably reminiscent of Old Reliable, the five-piece he co-fronts with other anti-Nashville plaidsters in the Canuck Prairies — but overall he’s welded something new into our flesh with a builder’s steady tempo and deliberate ideas about the relationship between nature and nurture, both in lyric and demonstrated method. My cat would have liked some chickadee samples in there, too, but you can’t have everything.
(Black Hen)

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