Artist: Jon Lindsay

Album: Summer Wilderness Program

Jon Lindsay makes power-pop music, a la the definition I started my Jukebox the Ghost review with. Where Jukebox the Ghost’s tunes remind me of young, flamboyant Elton John, Jon Lindsay — a smooth, graceful singer, and an imaginative user of synthesizers and percussion as well jon_lindsay_summeras pianos, strummed guitars, and violins — reminds me more of the occasional They Might Be Giants songs where they prove they could be a calm, respectable pop band if they felt like it (although you’re more likely to only know Birdhouse in Your Soul and maybe Ana Ng or Don’t Let’s Start; slow ’em down, delete the wacky bits, prettify the arrangements, transition into and out of minor-key, and you’re left with excellent Lindsay-esque tunes).

While all the songs are melody-centered, there’s good song-to-song variety in the delivery. Tiny Violins is piano-based, with pizzicato strings and shiny keyboard lines, but has an undergrowth of skittering drums from IDM electronica. Margot is folk/country, except for the fast, flashy keyboard solo. Where Love Goes to Die is blaring and futuristically funky, with buzzy synthesizers and hints of falsetto singing. Marcoda is hollow and haunted, with a hissing ambience. Little Fool is a 3/4-time slow dance that would almost fit American Graffiti‘s glory-days-of-early-rock’n’roll soundtrack. Vapor has a light, spindly arrangement, but when the synth hook kicks in it has the cheesily adorable drive of a Cars single. Biography is built on piano, organ, and lots of echo.

His topics are mostly conventional and relationship-based, but well-written (though I’ve had to transcribe them myself, with errors and question marks, and really wish he’d just printed them). Margot‘s yearning for past love includes “In my car seat, I would hit this tree, if I thought I could see you right away … School is out, it’s summer for someone, but I’m stuck inside your highlight reel”. It gets bonus points for “You had the keys to my heart, made of jokes and companionship”, which is a fine thing for heart keys to be made of. King of the Offseason is the self-aware song of an “average anti-hero”: “Let me play the lurker at your formal./ Trust me, I’ve been practicing my lines/ and I’ll be the English teacher who gets you high this semester/ I’ve been waiting for this picture all my life”. Tiny Violins are what he promises to “play for girls in my wake”, in a song about “survival at the standard cost/ speed trials in the last of the lost”: either Jon Lindsay isn’t singing to woo women, or he trusts their faith in his ability to sing in character.

He has, too, songs about people whom he isn’t there to romance. Marcoda is sung to a dead girl: “I remember you to your father when I see him, at garden parties and on wedding days … and we share a secret sadness and the sense that/ there ain’t nothing on the other side/ Then we take attendance of the folks who knew you/ our number getting smaller, smaller all the time”. Princess Street is sung for an alive girl he’s observing, and starts out bleak:  “She was a piece of driftwood floating over Princess Street/ when she woke up with those mystery bruises, black and bottom feet/ when the bluebird in her heart was saying ‘Just one more whiskey, please'”. But it’s build on hope and an interesting moral claim: “She doesn’t want to hear the story of one more prodigal son/ she’s looking for an allegory so much different from that one/ no religion, no one loses and the daughter may not ever come around/ But still the father chooses that, no matter where she cruises to/ he’ll be proud and lay his expectations down”.

Summer Wilderness Program is an album of excellent tunes, modestly inventive arrangements, and words worth singing along to: not the easiest thing to make. It’s Jon Lindsay‘s second album; debut Escape from Plaza-Midwood has 16 songs instead of 12, but thinner production and about the same number of *good* songs, so I’ll call Summer Wilderness Program further progress from a strong beginning. I’d probably rank it higher with all the lyrics in front of me waiting to read. You’ve been warned, record company: do better next time, or I’ll write another positive review with another small complaint lodged inside. Or something.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!