As was the case with his acclaimed debut, 2006’s Tower of Love, Jim Noir’s self-titled sophomore album is endlessly enjoyable as both a casual listen and a music-nerd exercise in spotting precise points of influence and nifty production tricks. An absolute marvel of a DIY aesthetic (that Noir writes, arranges, produces, and plays every real and electronic instrument on the record is just stupid-good), the album furthers Noir’s reputation as one of the most gifted artists on the forefront of the psychedelic electronica movement.
While that tag might be somewhat off-putting, it speaks more to Noir’s production style than it does to his overall sound. What Noir does as compellingly as any of his contemporaries is take production techniques that were first popularized by the psychedelic rock of the 1960s and 1970s—phase shifting, reversed tape recording, multitracking—and apply them to a wholly modern, electronic-driven brand of pop. The repeating key progression on “Happy Day Today,” for instance, recalls the Beach Boys’ Love You, but the way Noir layers the song’s keyboards and synth-strings shows the influences of more recent progressive-pop artists like Super Furry Animals and labelmate John Vanderslice. It’s Noir’s straightforward skill in crafting an indelible melody and his unaffected vocal performance, however, that make “Happy” a simply lovely, melancholy pop song.
Jim Noir finds a balance between this style of contemporary pop (“Ships and Clouds” trumps anything the Flaming Lips have done in several years) and more dance-oriented tracks, such as first single “All Right,” which makes exceptionally subtle use of a vocoder in its chorus, and the twitchy “Day By Day By Day.” Noir is in full command of his style here, maintaining a remarkable degree of coherence even when juggling dance and pop influences that, in the hands of a lesser artist, might compete with each other.
Noir also seems to have a grasp on the value of broad structure, since Jim Noir boasts a fairly clear narrative through line. The album opens with the introduction of a doomed astronaut and charts the fallout from his having lied to his family about his prospects, accounting for the undercurrent of sadness that runs throughout. As is the case with the production, the songwriting is strong enough to stand on its own merits: Independent of the album’s over-arching narrative, “Don’t You Worry” is a excellent song with a standout hook (“If you don’t want to be with me/What do you expect me to be?”) that could pass for early Radiohead. Like much of Vanderslice’s recent output, Jim Noir works brilliantly on an escapist level, even though it rewards more active listening.