Beach Boys meets The Residents, Jerry Paper’s “Carousel” takes these different worlds and effortlessly brings them together. The two bands did a lot to define pop music. For the Beach Boys, underneath their joyous optimism lurked a deep-seeded sadness. The Beach Boys made sad modern Gregorian music for beach parties. Not far away from this sound was The Residents, whose work with rudimentary sounds to create their own aural hermetic kingdom helped herald in a plethora of lo-fi pop acts. Pop music by its very nature often contains a deep inner truth and Jerry Paper’s “Carousel” explores this concept in depth. While the obvious position to take would be to dismiss Jerry Paper’s music as a joke on this listener, this is a relatively shallow observation of his music. Luke Nathan (the ‘guy behind the music’ as he puts it on “Halfway Zen”) opts for this persona with which he can explore as much weirdness as he possibly can. Similar artists working in this ‘so strange and mundane it becomes oddly compelling’ would include the obvious Tim and Eric, individuals who base their work over the celebration of long-forgotten local cable shows. Humor is an integral part of the album as it helps to soften some of the more biting lines on the album.
A cynical sense of humor defines the lilting work of “Wastoids”. Using the bare minimum of ingredients, an almost demo-like sound to the programmed piano and the almost hilariously simplistic drum machine, Jerry Paper manages to let these sounds come into bloom. As the song begins to introduce additional layers his askew form of pop at times is reminiscent of Mouse on Mar’s fondness for weird discarded sounds. The delivery of the line ‘and that’s my life’ recalls the punchline of Neil Hamburger’s many jokes. “Doesn’t Matter/Take Me” shows off Jerry Paper’s crooning. At times the piece brings to mind a bizarro version of a 1980s David Bowie having traded all his equipment in for a ton of cocaine and a cheap synthesizer. It is an excellent track. Lighter touches define the airier “Experiments in Living”. Jerry Paper follows this up with a lounge-lizard variation on “Perma-Song”.
“Destroy” serves as the heart of the album upon which all else changes. Sometimes an album has a song which is so explanatory that it forces the listener to reevaluate everything that just heard. “Destroy” is such a track. With an obvious nod to the Beach Boys, the piece sounds akin to a negative photograph of their sunny sound. While aspects of it appear to be cheery Jerry Paper emphasizes the disappointment that often hid behind so many walls of sound. “Halfway Zen” recalls the skewed work of Safety Scissors, another group that lives in the in-between area of experimentation and pop. Continuing down this path is the nostalgic “The Big Fight” whose sound and lyrics feel reminiscent of the Kinks with its constant sound of unrequited frustration with life.
Ending the album off on the perfect note is “Piggies”. Opening up with a jarring sample of a protest (somewhere in there is the line “fuck you fascist pig”) it then goes into a decadent form lush pop. The sound along with the actual message would have been right at home in the now-defunct Stereolab’s discography. Bringing it to a close with this feels completely appropriate as it further emphasizes disconnect between what the majority of the world faces versus a select few for whom the system work. To drive home the point Jerry Paper even sensually whispers ‘piggy’ as the song fades out.
Jerry Paper’s “Carousel” exists as a giant reflection on the hopes and dreams of the 60s as seen through a present-day socio-political prism. It is a compelling, weird, and funny experience.