Through the Night
I worked for four years in an independent record store. For those unfamiliar with what said environment might be like day in and day out, I would seriously suggest taking in High Fidelity. Read the novel by Nick Hornby or watch the film starring John Cusack; either way, you’ll get the idea. Like the characters, my co-workers and I did really stand around all day grousing about music—that is, of course, when we weren’t bemoaning our romantic fates and/or scanning the teeming crowd of shoppers for possible thieves.
It was during one such conversation with a highly opinionated co-worker and lifelong musician that the subject of the Shins’ debut album, Oh, Inverted World came up. Said co-worker obstinately resisted the pervasive cultural tide that was singing its praises, instead saying he thought the album was like cotton candy—something light and fluffy that requires a special sleight of hand to make it turn out just right, but entirely without substance. Sadly, this is also an apt description for singer, songwriter, and producer Jesse Harris’ latest release, Through the Night.
Harris’ Achilles heel is revealed right out of the gate: it’s in his delivery. Best known for being the award-winning songwriter behind Norah Jones’ debut album, the runaway success Come Away with Me, Harris has worked with an eclectic assortment of other artists, including Bright Eyes, Lisa Loeb, Madeleine Peyroux, Joshua Radin, and Solomon Burke. He’s a gifted intelligent lyricist and producer with a warm, gently nasal voice, both of which are used to perfectly serviceable effect on this album. Honestly, he seems like the pop musician Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) has always dreamed of being, and might have been, had Cuomo not listened to all that metal in the garage.
Unfortunately, Harris seems to favor high production value over singing with sincerity. He sounds emotionally disconnected from songs that, by their very nature, command some sort of emotional resonance. His is a concentrated polish that, in a perverse twist of musical logic, manages to strip that sought-after emotional connection away with layer upon layer of sound. The end result is schmaltz in favor of soul.
There are exceptions, of course. The lead-in rhythm on “Till You Drop” has a jaunty gallop to it, and the squeaky ape-like noises on the fadeout at the end make this otherwise Beatles-esque pop song sound odd in a good way. “It’s a Long Way Just to Say Hello” and “Dream of the Past” gently skirt poignancy yet still resonates with me. “All Day All Night” has a nice palate-cleansing bossa nova sound.
Overall, though, this is Starbucks music. Through The Night might have been interesting had it been released several decades ago. As it stands now, though, it just sounds like something a baby boomer would put on in the background during brunch, or while dusting the tchotchkes in the living room on cleaning day.