Hey underwater pals, Zoe here (It's my first one! Hi!) to tell you a little bit about our next artist, someone I have been itching to write about.
Last autumn, at the start of a scenic road trip through upstate New York, my friend Lauren was eager to share her discovery of Jordan Klassen with me. After joking that he was like a grounded Sufjan Stevens and that he generally aligned with my interest in sadbois, I was enthusiastically on board (literally) to give him a listen.
It turned out that being migratory at the start of a transitional season was the perfect circumstance to hear Klassen's album, Big Intruder. With buoyancy, dark ideas, and a touch of the fantastically whimsical, Big Intruder is a soundtrack for a hero's journey. One of the songs especially, "Yer Cure," brings to mind the sort of music you'd hear playing in the colorful, expansive universe of the acclaimed television show Adventure Time - that is, music that delights with novel arrangements and universal, adult lyrical themes. I often find myself talking about the album as if it's a magical entity, made of some sparkly, reflective substance, which I hope comes across as the high praise that it's meant to be.
The opening line of its very first track, "Hard To Please" "I was taking chances, sailing on her sea," sets us up for a recurring theme of living meaningfully in an unpredictable world. The next track "The Same Thing Over and Over" shows our hero with a genuine and practical intention to still move purposefully forward in that life. I can remember exactly when Lauren pointed out the verses "If these stones will pave a way / I'll lay them every day / and if these pills will cut the edge / I'll take them ‘till I'm dead" in the car, because we marveled at a song managing to express, so simply and pragmatically, productive sentiments about mental health. In fact, the ideas expressed in this song remind me of my favorite work of Kahlil Gibran's, a piece about how "in keeping yourself with labor you are in truth loving life." Any media that expresses this perspective without cliche becomes a favorite that I'll return to, over and over.
Later on, Klassen writes more directly about depression by focusing an entire song on an unexpected creature, the "Housefly." He sings "Housefly, never contented to be where you are, housefly, drawn to the sunlight but won't get so far." Any person like me who has struggled with depression will see vivid reflections of their worst self-destructive impulses in this song, but I found it unexpectedly reassuring to think of my depression as I would a housefly - inconspicuous but pervasive in households, and only as powerful as my reaction to it.
Another darkly dreamy song on the album, "Sylvia Plath Girl", makes me think of my unstable and powerfully immediate teenage infatuations. I can't help remembering the mystifying, sardonic older boy who worked with me at the community library. Predictably moody, handsome, and charming, he was also angry and critical and dealing with mental health issues I didn't then understand. I was crazy about him.
"I find her at the diner reading Kafka
She said she finds some peace in absurdity
I wonder if I've got some skills to master
Before I'm just a fig to fall from her tree
Lay on the forest floor, Sylvia Plath girl
I hear you talking
I don't know what you say
Lay on the forest floor, Sylvia Plath girl
I'll only love you if you stay
In her opinion I am lacking passion
A wonder for the world that sets me apart
I can't help thinking it's a big distraction
A way to kill it off before it can start"
It's a movie we've all seen, one that stars everyone you've ever cared about whose attention seemed like a limited resource. Sometimes it's simply true that the more you come to need someone, the less they suddenly have to give.
"Sylvia Plath Girl" reminds me of my library boy, but Lauren shared that it reminds her of me, and that makes me laugh. I've been both the angsty, literary lost girl and the spellbound fixer in love with one. This song evokes all of that, and I love the song for it.
Though it deals with heavy subjects, the album is still more steeped in hope than melancholy. His protagonist frequently pleads and often pauses to question, but the songs lean into - rather than acquiesce to - discomfort and press forward through uncertainty. All the while, Klassen's unique, cooing vocal style bathes his songs in wonder and blends with unconventional instrumentation choices (instruments that Klassen almost exclusively played himself). He has an impressive catalog of memorable songwriting, but this record — to borrow from Sylvia Plath's famous fig tree metaphor as he does — involved exploring a new branch to grasp a very different fig. Now in his thirties, Klassen wanted Big Intruder to be a departure for him and it is. He leaves behind previous styles and writes songs about growing up and making commitments.
Even after we had arrived our Airbnb in Hancock, NY, Lauren and I continued to play Klassen's music as we unpacked, merrily chirping to the back-and-forth vocals on the chorus of "Dominika." Moreso than his other songs, the twinkling sounds of "Dominika" evoke the "fairy-folk" genre that Klassen lists on his Bandcamp profile. Although he stays in the vicinity of folk throughout five albums and three EPs, tagging his records as post-folk, pop-folk, and pop, there are some surprises in his older works too. I liked hearing him give in to a more unrestrained singing style on some of his songs. And while Big Intruder drills deeper on reflection, intent, and resolve to me, earlier records like Tempest and Winter and Repentance felt more focused on expressing tenderness and passion, especially in "Ask Me Not, Astronaut" and "Go to Me."
I was slouched over my computer in bed writing this piece when I encountered the startlingly joyful "Call and Answer" on his 2012 EP, Kindness . After about 30 seconds, I sat straight up, alert and a little stunned. This song, a metaphor for the creative process (at least on my good days), is strikingly beautiful. It begins softly, expectant, the lyrics digging for the first kernels of impulse in a description of a distant storm. Then later he describes the storm itself, a vibrant metaphor for creation and one so hummable I can't stop singing it to myself.
Specific moments in my life come flashing up at me every time I hear Jordan Klassen's music, some from my childhood and some from late last year. Mostly they bring to the surface all of the feelings that were present at times when I was in dire need of change, whether I took that positively or negatively at the time. For me, his songs can conjure up bouncing off the walls in my room at 12, crying on the fire escape at 20, gazing plaintively out into a passing landscape at 25 - all different settings and circumstances, but all with the same motivation - to get out, to move forward, to try again. I can't help wondering what it's going to shake loose in all of you. Tell me when it happens.
In any case, I could not be more excited to welcome Jordan Klassen to the Underwater Sunshine Festival family.
Jordan’s home on the Webs
Find him on FB
And the ‘Gram
Catch the tweets
The Tube of You
And find him on Spotify